a suite of four interacting works that do meta-fictionality without that embarrassing pedantic odor. and in the title work lock so refines a style that his figurines gesture on an exquisite stage with a perfect modulation of wit and heartbreak. these miniatures gradually develop their emotional and formal ambitions so, as with the funambulist named within, we hold our breath — unbelieving the instant-by-instant and sentence-by-sentence marvels of lock’s high-wire act.
The Prime Minister is in the vestibule, brushing his silk hat with his sleeve. He comes each night after the cares of state have been put away. He lays them in a drawer among maps and pairs of immaculate white gloves. To be here with us requires finesse; for the nation believes he is lucubrating, not waltzing — certainly not doing the two-step or tango with a rustling girl in his arms! A girl in a pale-yellow dress whose frou frou causes desire to rise up in his thinnest ducts. He left the ministry by the back stairs, eluded the stiffly standing military guard, tiptoed past the alleys where, since nightfall, men and women have come in search of contraband. Each night he slides a stack of crimson inflationary currency over the sill of the wire wicket, behind which a woman sits who hands him, in return, a loop of blue tickets. Always it is the same girl with whom he dances — the one in the yellow dress, which makes a crepuscular music. She whose hair is the color of certain sunsets. It is for this the Prime Minister lives — not for his wife or his countrymen, who pity him over their beer and sausages for his ceaseless devotion. I lift my glass to him as he passes near my table, but his mind is elsewhere — on a diagram of the samba he is now dancing, studied intently an hour ago (a map of movement through a space hostile to gracelessness). I know what is in his mind, for inside the hotel I have the gift of omniscience. Do not ask who gave me it. I don’t know, unless it is the bottle of clearest gin, the mermaid on the swizzle stick, or the strength of my own desire (52-3).

pick it up from the publisher or from SPD.


more on m. lock here.

SHADOWPLAY by Norman Lock




an uncanny tale of the limits and power of story telling, SHADOWPLAY also works with a mesmerizing and subtle structure where the story repeats and folds into itself over and over again. among lock’s best work, it continues the self-conscious fascination and manipulation of the theme of “other” that appeared in works like A HISTORY OF THE IMAGINATION and LAND OF THE SNOW MEN. here however lock’s uproarious and dark-humored wit has been replaced with a different mode: that of a parable or fable. the alienation, vanity, occasional triumph, and seemingly inevitable destruction of the story-teller are almost classically illustrated in this compact and powerful tale.

“Stories compensate for lives unlived. They are what Norman Lock, or his avatar Guntur, calls shadows, negative reflections on a backlit screen, comprising, through artistry and brief illumination, ghosts. Lock’s teller is imprisoned by darkness, captivated by warriors and princesses no longer, if ever, living. Death becomes a distance from which the voices of these unliving return. It is a journey as delicious as it is threatening.”
—R.M. Berry

“[Lock’s] prose is melodial, and alert to every signal from the unseen.”
—Gary Lutz

Buy from Ellipsis Press.

Norman Lock interview and new website

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came across this interview with norman lock–who has a new book out called THE KING OF SWEDEN (ravenna press).

here’s lock on the simultaneously marginalized yet therefore critical status of small presses [which reminded me of this stephen-paul martin interview where is made the case that small presses need to be an alternative network to, and not simply a minor league version of, mainstream publishing].

interviewed by john olson in 2007 for CRANKY magazine:

Norman Lock: Many there were who deplored the condition of the American theatrical establishment in the 1960s for its hostility to originality of structure, voice, and language. Some simply went on deploring it while others created Off-Broadway and an authentic regional theater. In the ’70s, Off-Broadway was becoming nearly as ossified as the Broadway it had replaced. The result was an Off-Off-Broadway and studio theaters that welcomed the exceptional.

Liberality of mind and spirit is succeeded always by the reactionary, which yields, in turn, to an alternative. There is nothing surprising in this. I am happy that there are alternative presses, such as FC2, Ravenna Press, Triple Press, and Calamari Press, to seriously entertain the fiction that I wish to make, as well as independent magazines to publish our stories. When I think of Joyce and Beckett and Michaux, I am cheered and glad to be in their company — not that I have their talent, but I share their banishment to the margin… What constitutes a “sufficiency”? That very much depends on the quality of readers. A handmade book that Deron Bauman made for me in 2000 during his short-lived elimae books venture was read by less than 50 people, but among them were Gordon Lish, Diane Williams, Brian Evenson, Dawn Raffel, Faruk Ulay, Cooper Renner, Kathryn Rantala, and Guy Davenport. They form, for me, a sufficiency of readers.

To acknowledge such a limitation is to accept a reduced role for the writer. I do not believe that what I write can change the world or the people in it. I don’t believe that anything written by a contemporary literary artist has that power over a mass audience. There are some who believe they can restructure consciousness using language and narratives that defy convention. But their visionary writing will scarcely be read by the people most in need of a transformed consciousness. The only work that has power to engage a mass audience is sentimental (which is a lie) or pornographic (which is also a lie, though perhaps a more entertaining one). We can rue this. We can set down the causes to mainstream publishing or to a degeneration in popular taste and appreciation that have little to do with literacy. But we can and should seek out our own margin and make our literature there.

and on print versus digital publishing:

NL: This idea of art as a “making,” as a thing made—it speaks immediately to my disinclination toward online publication. I have a prejudice against it, which may be common for those of my generation; I do not trust it—do not entirely trust technology, for the obvious reasons. Electricity is evanescent; paper and ink give to the thing made permanence, which is, I am aware, illusory. And yet, perhaps not: We have old books, incunabula, writing set down on manuscripts, paper, parchment, stone tablets. It survives because of its autonomous life; it is not attached to an exterior life-support system, whose plug can be pulled. (I suspect one day it will.)

link to the whole interview available at lorman lock’s (new) website here.

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